What is a PBX Phone System

As your company expands from a startup to a thriving business with employees, you will want to provide phone connectivity to your staff. To do this, you will find yourself researching Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems.

In this guide, we break down all the essentials you need to know about modern PBX solutions. Even if you’ve never managed a PBX before, you’ll be able to jump around to the parts that matter to you.

What is a PBX?

A PBX is an acronym for Private Branch Exchange, which is a private telephone network that allows users can talk to each other. Different hardware components work in tandem to provide connectivity to the telephone network.

A PBX operates a company’s internal telephone network. A PBX system manages the routing and advanced calling features for inbound and outbound calls.

Setting up a PBX is no small task. A company enlists the help of one or more systems administrators with decades of telecom experience. You would also need the physical space to place the PBX system in the office, like a closet or server room.

To better appreciate the features and benefits of a commercial-grade PBX, we need to first talk about the phone system at large.

Becoming a Telephone Operator with a PBX

Plain Old Telephone System - Diagram

Plain Old Telephone System - Diagram

The traditional telephone system is known as the Plain Old Telephone System or POTS for short. It’s based on the twisted pair of wires from the local phone company to the building. POTS is basic, reliable, and hasn’t changed much in 140 years.

Telephone companies connect calls with others using the Publicly Switched Telephone Network (PTSN). The PSTN makes it possible for a Verizon customer to call an AT&T customer as well as patching calls over locally.

Providing a business with phone service isn’t inexpensive. A typical business phone bill could easily be in the thousands every month just for a hundred lines.

There has to be a better way.

A PBX allows a business to operate an internal phone system and use fewer phone lines from the phone company. Top PBX systems offer the option to manage voicemail, auto attendants, and recorded messages. This also includes phone extensions for everyone in the company.

The PBX has redesigned the way businesses handle calls, offering a significant upgrade to past limitations. Before, PBXs were proprietary and very difficult to maintain.

Today, PBX systems have evolved quite a bit. No longer beholden to the local telephone company, calls are made using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. Instead of analog lines, SIP trunking establishes connectivity for a fraction of the cost.

Want to learn more about VoIP? Our beginner’s guide to VoIP will help you understand the ins and outs of VoIP.

PBX systems empower IT leaders to maintain their existing devices with an all-digital backbone. By assigning different business phone numbers to different extensions. Alternatively, a cloud PBX blends the best of both worlds with a fully managed phone system deployment.

Now that we know the purpose of a Private Branch Exchange, let’s learn about the business benefits of a PBX.

PBX System Benefits for Businesses

It’s not every day that businesses specifically want to set up their phone system. There has to be something in it for them to move their phone service to the cloud.

Companies large and small enjoy the impressive capabilities of a PBX. Here are the top reasons why businesses use a PBX:

  1. Manage and complete calls on a specific, pre-programmed schedule. You can choose the direction of the “branching out” and set your own rules in the PBX network tree. Operators can restrict or permit international dialing as needed to avoid high costs.
  2. Transfer calls between users and departments with ease. Establish and maintain connections without dropping calls. You can transfer calls effectively through a warm transfer or cold transfer. Either way, you can transfer calls reliably.
  3. Customize greetings with recorded messages, including the choice of music for your business. This feature is a fantastic way to alert customers about a sale or service issues.
  4. Operate a call center to help you manage a sales team or customer support department. While costly, a PBX can hold inbound and outbound calls in a queue based on its physical limitations. A cloud-based PBX can handle a higher volume of calls and distribute them to the desired people or teams.
  5. Connect multiple office locations with the same phone system so employees can talk to each other. Instead of managing separate phone systems, you would use a PBX to handle this call routing.

Related: What Is Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) & How Does It Work?

Today, companies aim to configure their PBX as a cloud phone system with managed PBX features across many locations and users. This approach allows for the most considerable flexibility at a fixed cost.

Types of PBX Phone Systems

PBX phone systems exist in a few different varieties to fit just about any business need thrown at it. As business applications have migrated to the cloud, so have PBXs.

Network Diagrams: Hosted PBX SIP Trunking

Network Diagrams: Hosted PBX SIP Trunking

There are a few
options to consider for your PBX:

  1. Hosted PBX – Manage your employee’s phones all from your web browser. Simply purchase the service and phones, plug them in, and you’re done. You are free to adjust PBX features like call recording, call routing, auto attendants, hold music, and call forwarding. The best part is, you can fly through the online setup in minutes, not weeks. Since you directly manage this cloud-based PBX, all your devices are under your control.
  2. On-Premises PBX – For the upfront cost with occasional maintenance (consulting) fees, you can enjoy an on-site PBX. This feature is ideal if you have no growth plans, or if it’s cost-prohibitive to make the switch. However, instead of a complete phone system overhaul, you can just upgrade your PBX to one that is IP-ready.
  3. PBX SIP Trunking – For those with a PBX that want to take advantage of the VoIP benefits, there is an option for you. SIP Trunking provides the voice service for your company’s PBX. This multi-channel voice service is available without changing other PBX features. As your company grows, add more channels.

As a business owner, the question you want to ask yourself is, “Does our PBX yield the most value every year? Are we spending too much managing it?” As far as depreciating assets go, on-prem PBX systems are costly to maintain, add users, and configure features.

According to the FCC, some phone scams target innocent staff using legacy PBX systems to relay expensive international calls.

A PBX that runs in the cloud is cost-effective since its features are updated regularly, and you don’t need to set up the network infrastructure.

For companies that can’t afford a complete upgrade, PBX SIP Trunking is a worthy option. Rejuvenate your PBX with new scalability and lower communication costs with the same hardware.

Businesses that opt for a Hosted PBX or a SIP Trunking solution, they can cut their telecom costs by 60%.

Switching to VoIP can save businesses as much as 60%.

Switching to VoIP can save businesses as much as 60%.

Related: Cloud-Based Phone System Pros and Cons (+Best Practices)

PBX Comparison: On-Prem vs. Hosted PBX

Comparing on-premises and hosted PBX systems can help you make the right choice for your business. Whether you’re researching PBX systems for yourself or a client, you can recognize the benefits at a glance.

On-Premises PBX Cloud-Hosted PBX
Lower cost per seat No upfront costs
No use of internet Modest use of network bandwidth
Basic calling features No maintenance
Unexpected maintenance costs Redundant data centers
You manage the infrastructure Training and support included

Now, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each type of PBX.

On-Premises PBX Pros & Cons

Cloud-Hosted PBX Pros & Cons

For startups and enterprises in 2020, the hosted PBX is the preferred way to set up phone service for your company. You’ll save yourself a ton of stress and budget.

Pictured below is a diagram to illustrate how a Hosted PBX works. The best part is, you can free yourself (and your execs) from the cord thanks to VoIP softphones.

Related: Is Hosted VoIP Right for Your Business?

Diagram of a Hosted VoIP Infrastructure

Diagram of a Hosted VoIP Infrastructure

Adapt a PBX to Your Company—Not the Other Way Around

No matter what PBX you choose, you should strive to make sure it meets your company needs. The way we work has changed so much in two decades. Shouldn’t your PBX keep up with you?

One of the fundamental takeaways here is that you can’t only decide based on the sticker price of a business phone system.

Assess your company’s growth trajectory and range of internal and external communications. No one knows your business better than you do.

Related: 12 Hidden Benefits of SIP Trunking You Need to Know

Cameron Johnson is a market segment leader at Nextiva. Along with his articles on Nextiva’s blog, Cameron has written for a variety of publications including Inc. and Business.com. Cameron was recently recognized as Utah’s Marketer of the Year.


What Is a Server in Computer Networking

A server is a computer designed to process requests and deliver data to another computer over the internet or a local network. A well-known type of server is a web server where web pages can be accessed over the internet through a client like a web browser. However, there are several types of servers, including local ones like file servers that store data within an intranet network.

Although any computer running the necessary software can function as a server, the most typical use of the word references the enormous, high-powered machines that push and pull data from the internet.

Most computer networks support one or more servers that handle specialized tasks. As a rule, the larger the network in terms of clients that connect to it or the amount of data that it moves, the more likely it is that several servers play a role, each dedicated to a specific purpose.

The server is the software that handles a specific task. However, the powerful hardware that supports this software is also called a server. This is because the server software that coordinates a network of hundreds or thousands of clients requires hardware that’s more robust than computers for consumer use.

While some dedicated servers focus on one function, such as a print server or database server, some implementations use one server for multiple purposes.

A large, general-purpose network that supports a medium-sized company likely deploys several types of servers, including:

  • Web server: A web server show pages and runs apps through web browsers. The server your browser is connected to now is a web server that delivers this page and the images on it. The client program, in this case, is a browser like Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, or Safari. Web servers are used for many tasks in addition to delivering simple text and images, such as uploading and backing up files online through a cloud storage service or online backup service.
  • Email server: Email servers send and receive email messages. If you have an email client on your computer, the software connects to an IMAP or POP server to download your messages to your computer, and an SMTP server to send messages back through the email server.
  • FTP server: FTP servers move files through File Transfer Protocol tools. FTP servers are accessible remotely using FTP client programs, which connect to the file share on the server, either through the server’s built-in FTP capabilities or with a dedicated FTP server program.
  • Identity Server: Identity servers support logins and security roles for authorized users.

Hundreds of specialized server types support computer networks. Apart from the common corporate types, home users often interface with online game servers, chat servers, and audio and video streaming servers, among others.

Some servers exist for a specific purpose but aren’t necessarily interacted with in any meaningful way. DNS servers and proxy servers are some examples.

Many networks on the internet employ a client-server networking model that integrates websites and communication services.

An alternative model, called peer-to-peer networking, allows all the devices on a network to function as either a server or client on an as-needed basis. Peer networks offer a greater degree of privacy because communication between computers is narrowly targeted. However, due in part to bandwidth limitations, most implementations of peer-to-peer networking aren’t robust enough to support large traffic spikes.

The word cluster is used broadly in computer networking to refer to an implementation of shared computing resources. Typically, a cluster integrates the resources of two or more computing devices that could otherwise function separately for some common purpose (often a workstation or server device).

A server cluster. Lifewire

A web server farm is a collection of networked web servers, each with access to content on the same site. These servers function as a cluster conceptually. However, purists debate the technical classification of a server farm as a cluster, depending on the details of the hardware and software configuration.

Because servers are software, people can run servers at home, accessible either to devices attached to their home network or devices outside the network. For example, some network-aware hard drives use the Network Attached Storage server protocol to allow different PCs on a home network to access a shared set of files.

An illustration of servers in a home network. Lifewire

Plex media server software helps users view digital media on TVs and entertainment devices regardless of whether the data exists in the cloud or on a local PC.

The Ins-and-Outs of Media Server Software Solutions

If your network is set up to allow port forwards, you can accept incoming requests from outside your network to make your home server act as a server from a big company like Facebook or Google (where anyone can access your resources).

However, not all home computers and internet connections are suitable for lots of tra
ffic. Bandwidth, storage, RAM, and other system resources are factors that affect how large of a home server you can support. Most home operating systems are also void of server-related features.

Since uptime is critically important for most servers, servers aren’t designed to shut down but instead run 24/7. However, servers sometimes go down intentionally for scheduled maintenance, which is why some websites and services notify users of scheduled downtime or scheduled maintenance. Servers might also go down unintentionally during something like a DDoS attack.

A web server that reports an error due to downtime—whether intentional or not—might do so using a standard HTTP status code.

When a web server takes down information permanently, or even temporarily, you might still be able to access those files if a third-party service archived it. Wayback Machine is one example of a web archiver that stores snapshots of web pages and files stored on web servers.

Large businesses that have multiple servers don’t typically access these servers locally, like with a keyboard and mouse, but instead by remote access. These servers are also sometimes virtual machines, meaning that one storage device can host multiple servers, which saves physical space and money.


What is a Virtual Phone Number How to Get One

Your legacy phone system no longer cuts it these days. With the surge of people working remotely, traditional landlines just can’t keep up with the needs of your business.

There must be a better way to manage your business communications, right? There is!

There’s a new wave of office phone systems that are flexible enough to meet the needs of a remote team, even while working from home.

But what about your phone numbers? Are they difficult to use? Why should you care about them?

We’ll explain all the ins of outs of virtual phone numbers for your company and what you should know about how they work.

What is a virtual phone number?

A virtual phone number is a telephone number that isn’t bound to a fixed location. Virtual numbers can be used to make or receive calls on any phone, such as VoIP desk phones, cell phones, or softphones. It’s perfect for employees in the office, or those who work at home.

You can select which devices receive calls from the virtual number, and change them when needed. This flexibility is why they’re sometimes called “secondary” numbers. Virtual phone numbers also provide increased anonymity over your landlines, which people can find in online directories.

Virtual phone numbers have grown in popularity. Businesses use them to accept calls from customers all over the world, regardless of where their offices are located. It gives them seamless lines of communication with their customers. They can’t distinguish between a virtual and standard telephone number.

How does a virtual number work?

Virtual phone numbers do not require a SIM card or a physical address. It uses secure internet technology to place real telephone calls between people.

Instead, virtual numbers accept calls through Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Fundamentally, it’s the same proven technology used to make calls and text messages through iMessage, WhatsApp, or Google Voice.

VoIP has flourished because it can provide real-time communication using existing broadband connections. With a cloud communications provider, your phone calls are digitized and connected over the internet and across traditional phone networks. Over the years, more VoIP codecs provide rich call quality without eating up too much data.

Phone numbers in the United States are portable, so you don’t even have to switch. The process is known as number porting, and it ensures you can take your business phone number with you regardless of your VoIP provider.

As a result, you don’t need a wired Ethernet connection to take calls through a VoIP phone number. So long as you have a fast and reliable data connection—4G LTE or Wi-Fi—you can place calls. This is how virtual phone numbers allow you to take calls from your mobile phone.

Differences between virtual and regular phone numbers

There are millions of phone numbers you can select. They fall into two categories: virtual and regular phone numbers. So, what’s the difference between the two? And how do you decide which is best for your company?

Let’s start with regular phone numbers. Traditional phone numbers usually are installed and provided by the local telephone company. Most people don’t know that they own the number, not the telephone company. Telephone companies typically assign phone lines to the street address of where it’s installed.

Traditional phone lines require phone lines to run throughout the building to each desk phone. Installing telecom lines isn’t always easy nor feasible in every office.

A virtual phone number, however, can route to any type of phone, and it’s not bound to one location. It works for employees in and out of the office because they share the same cloud PBX.

That means your in-house or virtual team can pick-up calls from the virtual number in the office, at home, or on their cell phone. And, you can choose who receives incoming calls from the virtual phone number depending on your staff availability.

Benefits of a virtual number

Now that you have a better idea about these types of phone numbers, it’s time to decide if your business needs one.

Here are a few useful benefits you should know about virtual phone numbers.

1) Eliminate expensive add-ons and fees with local phone numbers

People can call your virtual phone number from anywhere in the world without paying expensive calling charges. You can offer a toll-free phone number or a discounted local phone number that global callers may appreciate.

Let’s put that into practice and say you’re running marketing campaigns across the United States. You can ask customers to call your toll free number — a virtual phone number that doesn’t cost them extra for making the call.

A Direct Inward Dialing (DID) will point them to the specific person they need to speak with by calling the virtual number you’ve created for their city or country. They’ll be directed to your sales team, regardless of whether they’re in different countries. And, the best part: your leads won’t notice any difference.

Pro-tip: If you’re calling leads in a major metro area like Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Los Angeles, or Seattle, you might want to pick up a local virtual number.

2) Improve caller satisfaction with auto attendants

Cloud phone service providers like Nextiva include auto attendants. An auto attendant greets callers and provides a straightforward menu to reach the right person. This feature ensures that callers don’t waste time explaining their issue to the wrong person.

For example, if someone calls your virtual number to get help with a billing question, their call will be directed to an agent on your finance team. They won’t need to pass through several people to reach the agent best-equipped to help them.

Traditional phone systems don’t include these powerful call routing features. With legacy phone systems, you might need a costly on-prem PBX, an IT manager, and a lot of legwork just to bounce customers around. It’s not fun for anyone.

A Cloud PBX, along with virtual phone numbers, are the way to go.

3) Break free from the office plus a modern voicemail

A traditional telephone number connects to one desk phone. What happens when the person at that desk is out of the office? You have no choice but to send them to voicemail. But there’s an 85% chance they won’t call back.

Virtual numbers solve that problem. You can turn their desk phone connection off and have other agents answer calls on their mobile phones, or forward to another available agent. This capability reduces the odds of those callers falling victim to voicemail and never being heard from again.

ut if they still land on a voicemail box, there’s still hope. A virtual phone system transcribes the message and emails it to you within seconds. Is that a robocaller or your child’s school calling? With voicemail to email, you’ll know.

Related: 35 Essential Office Phone System Features: The 2020 Buyer’s Guide

4) Employees can separate business from their personal phone

It’s not just incoming calls that a virtual phone number comes in handy. You can use the same number to make outgoing calls—be that to your customers or coworkers. And, it conceals your caller ID when you do so.

This novel feature makes virtual phone numbers ideal for remote workers. (Some 38% of companies have team members who work remotely; there’s a steady shift away from the office working.)

Remote staff don’t need to install a desk phone in their home office, nor use their cell phone to take business calls. The virtual phone number masks their caller ID, which gives them greater control and peace of mind when calling contacts.

They don’t need to be concerned that customers know your private number. You can select business hours for the virtual phone number to accept inbound calls or divert them to a voicemail.

Protect yourself from virtual phone scams

It’s no secret that phone scams are on the rise. Uncertainty and financial anxiety only increase their effectiveness. Even as a business owner, you are a prime target for phone scams.

Virtual numbers carry with it a responsibility to not deceive others. However, not everyone plays by the rules. It’s the real world. You might get receive a phone calls with a fake caller ID claiming to be your bank or a government office.

The bottom line is that you can’t necessarily trust the numbers that call you. Robocallers have been hammering millions of Americans with “neighbor spoofing,” where calls appear to be from your same prefix. For while it worked, we answered, then we learned to screen incoming calls.

If you receive an intimidating call from your bank, do not give them any information. Hang up and contact the bank directly by calling the number posted on their official website.

As far as your virtual phone numbers are concerned, you’ve got to protect them from abuse. Make sure you use secure, complex passwords for your virtual phone system. Whitelist your VoIP provider’s email into your inbox, so you receive alerts immediately if there is any suspicious activity.

Since all calls traverse over the internet, network security and practicing good cybersecurity habits are vital.

  • Ensure that phones and computers receive operating system updates
  • Install antivirus software to detect malware and rootkits
  • Use complex, secure passwords to access your virtual phone system and don’t reuse them
  • If you use public Wi-Fi, use a business-grade VPN

How to get a virtual phone number

There’s no doubt that virtual phone numbers are more beneficial than traditional landline numbers. They work for small businesses with remote staff as well as larger companies who need to manage communication in their call centers.

Virtual phone numbers come in a few flavors:

  • Local phone numbers – These numbers are based in certain geographic areas, also known as rate centers or area codes.
  • Toll-free numbers – These are special numbers that start with 800, 888, 866, and others that allow people to call it without any tolls or fees.
  • Vanity numbers – These numbers are the catchy, memorable numbers like 1-800-FLOWERS. You would want to purchase these and port them in.

Remember, you can keep your existing phone number and take it with you to a virtual phone system. As your company expands, you can pick out new numbers or swap out others whenever you want.

Once you set up your virtual phone system, you’ll wish you had it sooner. Your team will enjoy the freedom, flexibility, and savings a virtual phone number provides.

Julie Bai is a product manager at Nextiva, UCaaS evangelist, no-bull communicator and translator for people, dog lover, and mother to an adorably active boy.


The Future of IT Consulting

The explosion of “computer-to-computer” communication in the twenty-first century is triggering a growth phase for IT consultants. Harvard Business School professor Richard Nolan and HBS Interactive Senior Vice President Larry Bennigson trace the evolution of IT management consulting.

Johnston: Your research refers to the PC in the 80’s and the Internet in the 90’s as triggers of explosive growth for the IT consulting industry. Have you identified a third trigger for this decade?

Nolan and Bennigson: The trigger in this decade underlying autonomous computing is “computer-to-computer” communication. By the end of the decade, more than 60 percent of the computer communications will be computer-to-computer. Computer-to-computer vastly speeds up the pace of business. For example, end-to-end supply chains can be automatically adjusted by point-of-sale computers directly communicating with warehouse computers, which in turn directly communicate with manufacturer computers, and, again in the chain, manufacturers’ computers directly communicate with their supplier computers. In addition, computer-to-computer communications can track demand and adjust logistic systems to automatically direct product to geographical points of demand.

Q: Can you describe some of the enablers and drivers behind the growth of the IT consulting industry? How has globalization impacted this growth?

A: The enablers and drivers of growth of the IT (see working paper) consulting industry have been several. First, innovation in frameworks and methodologies along with trained professionals have provided value-added services uniquely available from the consulting firm. For example, the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey innovated unique conceptual frameworks for assisting management in sorting out action plans for their various lines of business.

By the end of the decade, more than 60 percent of the computer communications will be computer-to-computer.
— Nolan and Bennigson

Newness and complexity have been a second driver. Andersen Consulting, now Accenture, has provided expertise in designing and coding complex computer applications. SAP and Seibel have developed unique package software, and have provided specialized consulting services to assist in the implementation of the package software.

A third driver has been the building to critical mass high levels of expertise not economical to maintain in a particular company. For example, computer security consulting requires a high level of expertise, which few firms can economically maintain in-house. By providing these kinds of services to many firms, critical mass can be maintained in the practice group, as well as ensure that the group stays on the leading edge of the subject matter.

Related to this third driver is the focus that a separate consulting firm can maintain in managing a highly talented group of knowledge workers. The management and incentive systems are quite different in a consulting firm than in, say, a product firm. Consequently, a product firm may not be attractive to various knowledge workers who prefer to work in the consulting environment.

A fourth driver is the demand for process and behavior change that IT implementation puts on most organizations. IT was not just a new technology. To capture the value IT represented, organizations had to address change in structure, culture, people, process, and leadership. Many organizations turned to the consulting industry for help in understanding and managing these significant changes.

Finally, the IT consulting industry enjoyed an unprecedented frenzy of convergence of 1) adoption of systems such as ERP and CRM; 2) management improvements such as BPRE; 3) problems to solve such as Y2K; and 4) new territory to pioneer such as e-business.

Q: Who are the current players who have successfully adapted to the changing IT environment? What is the key to their success?

A: In our working paper, we state that more than 50 percent of today’s capital budgeting expenditures involve computing in one form or another. As a result of the pervasiveness of IT, literally all consulting firms have had to integrate IT expertise. Indeed, with the hyper growth during the 1990’s, consulting is still in restructure mode.

A high degree of industry adaptation in the IT consulting industry will be required in the future.
— Nolan and Bennigson

Within this context, Accenture has continued to broaden their consulting service scope. Accenture has built an impressive education and training facility called St. Charles, outside of Chicago, which focuses on maintaining currency in the skill levels of their professionals, as well as providing a leading tool for equipping their professionals with the new skill required with emerging IT.

Another type of example is the IT product firms that incorporate certification and training for their own consultants, independent consultants, and customer professionals. Microsoft, Sun, and Novell are examples of these kinds of companies.

Q: What are your predictions for the future of IT management consulting?

A: We believe that the recent restructuring in the IT management consulting industry is a point of industry transition. That transition coincides with the emergence of new drivers of IT management consulting growth. While the transition is still being played out, we can see some of these new drivers taking shape.

Until recently, there had been an IBM de facto industry standard for the operating system, and a de facto standard in the use of COBOL for applications development. By the late 1990’s, new applications development had become almost exclusively supplanted by package implementation. In addition, networking and the Internet moved the IT infrastructure for the IBM standard to an emerging environment characterized by open standards.

Accordingly, the IT infrastructure became simpler and more complex at the same time through the innovation of layers and API’s (Application Programming Interfaces). The implication for IT management consulting is a rather complex demand to provide both strategic perspective along with implementation savvy on managing the considerable risks of not being able to realize the strategic competitive advantages of computing because of failures to effectively manage implementation challenges.

Further, within the context of the management challenges of balancing strategic opportunities with implementation capabilities, there are dampening forces on industry growth. For example, the wave of ERP installations and BPRE projects is now beyond its peak. While outsourcing is still an established practice, companies have gained experience and can now do much more for themselves that they have looked to outsiders to do in the past. Managers know more about IT, more about the business and organizational potential and implications of IT and more about designing their own backbone and architecture.

We think it is important that it is tempting but risky to completely turn over IT initiatives to IT consulting firms.
— Nolan and Bennigson

And, there are forces that will drive new demand. Security is fast becoming a ubiquitous issue. The Internet will experience dramatic growth in Asia and Europe. New applications such as bioinformatics and telematics create new consulting segments. And the adoption of Internet2 will eventually have broad impact.

IT consulting, as much as any product or service, creates its own demand. A high degree of industry adaptation in the IT consulting industry will be required in the future. By introducing innovations and educating the market about the competitive benefits of those innovations, IT consulting
invents and “earns” its opportunities for growth. This ability of IT consulting to lead and to adapt is a key to its robust development.

Q: What lessons can operations managers take away from your research?

A: There are a number of lessons we think are important for operations managers:

Many functional and business leaders have become conversant about IT and many IT specialists have become knowledgeable about the strategic and business benefits of IT. Companies that encourage and incorporate this integrated and more sophisticated capability within their organizations will have an edge over those that have to rely on outsiders for the integrated view.

The rate of change in IT capabilities is a companion to the rate of change most companies experience in other technologies, markets, and initiatives of competitors. We have noted that the successful IT consulting firm must be able to anticipate, sense, and nimbly respond to change. This is equally true for operations. Operations managers face the daunting task of implementing new IT capabilities while ensuring they are also prepared for the next version or generation.

The emerging IT environment is at a level of complexity such that efforts to build IT infrastructure and integrated applications require specialized expertise that is often available only in IT consulting firms. Good operations managers will ensure that their organizations have the ability to work effectively with and integrate the value from networks of service providers with a variety of special capabilities.

Finally, we think it is important that it is tempting but risky to completely turn over IT initiatives to IT consulting firms. A significant number of your own IT professionals and users should be included in integrated IT initiatives.


Lifecycle dates extended for Windows Server 2012

  • 08/08/2018

Originally published: March 14, 2017

search Please go here to search for your product’s lifecycle.

The Mainstream and Extended Support dates for Windows Server 2012 have been extended for customers, to align with the standard lifecycle transition timeline.

The Lifecycle Policy for Windows Server 2012 states that Mainstream Support will be provided for five years, or for two years after the successor product (N+1, where N=product version) is released, whichever is longer. Microsoft will also provide Extended Support for the five years following Mainstream Support or for two years after the second successor product (N+2) is released, whichever is longer.

Due to the timing of the release of Windows Server 2016, an extension was required. The newly published October Mainstream and Extended end dates are correct. You can find the new dates here.


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Definition of CONSULTATION

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con·​sul·​ta·​tion | ˌkän(t)-səl-ˈtā-shənHow to pronounce consultation (audio)

1 : council, conference specifically : a deliberation between physicians on a case or its treatment Her doctor called in a heart specialist for consultation.

2 : the act of consulting or conferring met with his physician for regular consultation and examination

Synonyms More Example Sentences Learn More about consultation


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The 7 Best Virtual Phone Number Providers of 2020

A virtual phone number is a phone number that lets you choose the area code of the phone number.

All VoIP providers offer virtual phone numbers. Any phone number that is not provided by a traditional phone service provider is a virtual phone number. That’s because virtual phone numbers aren’t tied to a physical location like the phone numbers you receive from a traditional phone company.

Providers of virtual phone numbers allow business owners to choose a number for their business which can be used with the cell phone or landline already used for personal phone calls. The seven virtual phone number providers examined in the article below have proven to be the best options of the many providers operating in the industry. For consumer convenience, each of the seven companies has been carefully evaluated based on the price of their services, available features, and services offered to determine which of the companies are the best of the best.

How Virtual Phone Number Providers Were Evaluated


Virtual phone numbers allow users to differentiate between business and personal phone calls that are taken on a mobile phone or landline. This is accomplished by providing users with a second phone number that can be answered with the same device. Call routing, multi-line management, and voicemail are also available to users of virtual phone numbers. Whichever provider selected by the user should offer a service that is convenient, affordable, and comes with great customer support.

In the end, the following factors were considered when comparing the seven virtual phone number providers:

  • Price – The price of all services and features offered by virtual phone number providers is taken into consideration.
  • Convenience – We observed how convenient it is to set up and use various services.
  • Call Management – The call management features each provider offered were noted and evaluated. These features include call forwarding, call screening, and block capabilities.
  • Extensions – The ability to route calls using phone number extensions was evaluated.
  • Multi-line Management – The ease of keeping business and personal calls separate on a landline or mobile phones were rated.
  • Quality of phone calls – Online reviews were consulted to assess customer satisfaction with the sound and quality of phone service offered by each provider.
  • Auto-Attendant – We checked the availability of automated attendants to greet and route callers to the line most appropriate for their call.
  • Customer Support – We analyzed the level of customer support offered by each virtual phone number providers.

Next is a detailed evaluation for each of the seven companies identified among the best providers of virtual phone numbers.

Here are the 7 best virtual phone number providers of 2019:


1. Grasshopper

Grasshopper provides high-quality phone features to business owners that do not require equipment to be installed in their office, home, or on their smartphone. Grasshopper provides users with unlimited calling, call forwarding, and an automated attendant for an extremely low base price. This option is great for remote workers and business owners who need to stay in contact with customers and clients. Grasshopper offers a 7-day free trial. Click here to sign up for the trial and get a $75 discount.


The three service plans offered by Grasshopper are competitively priced. The solo plan offers one business phone number along with three extensions for $29 per month. The partner plan comes with three business numbers and six extensions. The partner plan costs customers $49 a month. Lastly, the small business plan offered by Grasshopper includes five numbers and there is no limit to the number of extensions available to users. The small business plan costs $89 per month.


Grasshopper offers a number of features that are great for small business owners. Many of the features offered by Grasshopper rival the services offered by conventional providers of business phone systems at a fraction of the price. Check out our Grasshopper reviews for more information.

Some of these features are:

  • Auto-Attendant – The auto-attendant provided by Grasshopper answers all inbound calls before forwarding the calls to the individual or department the client or customer is trying to reach. These phone calls can be routed to any phone number. This is true whether the business owner is using a landline, mobile phone service, or another business phone.
  • Call Management – The call management solutions offered by Grasshopper include call transfer and forwarding, call blocking, and other features that can be customized. A call screening feature allows the user to hear the name and phone number of each caller before deciding the need to answer the call.
  • Call Routing and Extensions – Extensions provide the user with more control over the routing of incoming calls. The user is able to create extensions, choose where each call should be routed, identify the order in which numbers should ring, and determine how many rings should happen before the call is routed to the next available number.

Grasshopper Setup And Usage

Grasshopper services do not require any equipment other than the cell phone or landline used by the customer. The user interface is easy to understand and provides users with separate tabs to access configuration options. Users can choose either a local or toll-free number and are provided with extensions for call routing. The Grasshopper homepage alerts users to any calls from customers and clients they may have missed.

What Grasshopper Does Not Have

The list of features offered by Grasshopper is not as extensive as some competitors in the market. Grasshopper does not provide users with options like call recording, video conferencing, or multi-level auto-attendant.

What Users Say

The loyal base of customers possessed by Grasshopper says the low cost and reliability of the services offered are the main reasons they use the company’s products. Customers also say the team of customer service representatives employed by the company are always helpful. Complaints by customers were mostly due to trouble with the management and configuration of the call forwarding service.

Choosing Grasshopper

Business owners who need a basic virtual phone number service with a good combination of features will do well to choose Grasshopper. The company offers a seven day free trial of its services and customers do not have to provide a credit card to enjoy the trial period. The company website should be consulted for more details.

2. Jive Communications

Jive Communications provides a robust business VoIP system to businesses, and of course offers virtual phone numbers as well. Jive provides users with unlimited calling, call forwarding, and over 80 business-grade features for a fixed monthly rate per user. This option is ideal for organizations with a lot of remote workers.


Jive’s pricing is very simple. 1 to 4 users costs $29.95/month per user. 5 to 9 users costs $25.95/month per user. 10 to 24 users costs $23.95/month per user. 25 to 49 users costs $21.95/month per user. 50 to 100 users costs $19.95/month per user. Jive also offers custom pricing for over 100 users.


Jive offers a over 80 features that are essential for business operations
. Jive offers the best amount and selection of business features of any provider in the VoIP industry.

Some of these features are:

  • Custom Schedules – You can create a schedule in advance with an integrated custom dial plan, which also turns off when you leave. You can also program custom greetings into your schedule.
  • Find Me/Follow Me – Find Me/Follow Me is a feature offered by Jive that lets users route incoming phone calls to multiple different phone numbers so that you can receive the call no matter where you are.
  • Call Management – Jive also features call management features like call transfer and call forwarding, call blocking, and other functions that you can customize. A call screening feature lets the user hear the name and phone number of each caller before answering.

Jive Setup And Usage

Jive is extremely easy to set up. Jive will mail your company VoIP phones that are pre-programmed. When you plug them in you can be up and running in a very short period of time.

What Jive Does Not Have

For some small businesses, Jive may be too much. A company like Grasshopper providers virtual phone numbers without needing equipment or anything else.

What Users Say

Jive is one of the best reviewed companies in the VoIP industry. Most customers are quite happy with their service.

Choosing Jive

If you’re a business owner or IT decision maker who wants a full-featured, comprehensive business phone system that also providers virtual phone numbers, then Jive is the right option for you.

3. VirtualPhone.com

VirtualPhone.com provides customers with international numbers at no additional cost. Company services also include unlimited extensions, an auto attendant, fax capabilities, and voicemail. The company offers customers a starter package for customers either for free or at a low-cost. This is a great choice for independent and small business owners who wish to expand into international markets while maintaining a domestic presence.


VirtualPhone.com allows customers to choose from a pay as you go pricing structure or one of the three paid plans offered by the company. The starter plan offered by the company ranges in price from free to $19 each month. The medium package begins at $39 and tops out at $99. The top end service for the company range in price from $149 to $499 per month.

The three paid plans offered by VirtualPhone.com allows customers to choose minutes or texts for monthly usage.


In addition to the bucket of texts offered by VirtualPhone.com, plans include local and international numbers, SMS capabilities, Call forwarding services, voicemail, auto-attendant, and more.

  • Automated Attendant – The auto-attendant feature offered by VirtualPhone.com provides for call routing to all mobile and landline numbers, all extensions the user possesses, and any department in the user’s company. Users are also able to record and customize pre-recorded messages for the benefit of inbound callers.
  • Call Management – The call management options offered by VirtualPhone.com include call forwarding, the ability to ring different phones in a timed order, and the ability to ring multiple phones at once. All call management features can be configured by using the company’s desktop or mobile app.
  • Call Routing and Extensions – VirtualPhone.com provides users with unlimited extensions so that each agent with the company has the use of a direct line. Each of these extensions comes with voicemail, call routing, and fully customizable greetings. Users can also call customers and clients with the provided softphone app. When the softphone is used, the virtual phone number provided by the company will show up on the call recipients caller ID.

VirtualPhone.Com Setup And Usage

The setup process with VirtualPhone.Com is simple and quick. The interface used by the company is simple and straightforward. It takes ten minutes on average to set up an account and users are given 100 demo minutes after the signup process is complete. All options to configure your service is available through the dashboard.

What VirtualPhone.Com Does Not Have

VirtualPhone.com offers users a simple and direct set of features, a variety of pricing options, and a tier of free services. This service does not offer the number of features some other companies offer. Businesses that desire more than one local phone number or are in need of CRM integration may do better to check out another company.

What Users Say

Users of VirtualPhone.com applaud the company for its international calling features. Some users report frustration with customer service delays. These delays seem to be especially frustrating for customers experiencing billing issues. This problem should probably be considered when deciding between this and other companies.

Choosing VirtualPhone.com

VirtualPhone.com is a great choice for customers who are in need of international calling capabilities and want to pay as they go. The company offers interested parties a full demo and the ability to try out the services at no risk.

4. Google Voice

Google voice offers basic virtual phone services at no cost. Google Voice services can be used on all landlines and mobile phones to take business calls and answer voicemails.


Google voice offers all individuals who need to separate their business calls from their personal calls a second number to use for no monthly fee. Most calls within the United States and Canada are completely free. The price to call certain U.S. numbers that are not free and international phone numbers begin at a penny a minute.


Google voice services come with voicemail, call screening, and the ability to block callers. Some advanced features are not available with Google Voice but the service is great for business owners who only need basic functions. Users of Google Voice benefit also by the following features:

  • Automated-Attendent – Google voice does not come with an auto-attendant that will greet callers and route calls to their proper destination. However, the service provides a screening feature that asks callers to state their name before the phone of the Google Voice user begins to ring.
  • Call Management – Your contact list and address book is the source of the information used by Google to alert users to the identity of the person or business entity calling a Google Voice number. The service also gives users a variety of options to handle each call they receive. You can choose to answer the call after learning the name of the caller, send the call to your voicemail, or listen to the voicemail as the caller leaves it.
  • Call Routing and Extensions – Google Voice does not allow for extensions in the conventional sense but it does allow through advanced settings for users to set preferences to direct certain calls to a particular phone or voicemail. Users who are dependent on extra extensions, call routing, or additional numbers may need to try a service more suited to their needs.

Google Voice Setup And Usage

Google Voice is most likely the simplest to use of all virtual phone number providers. Home, mobile, and work phones can be added in a matter of minutes. Once the phones are linked, calls and SMS messages can be received any phone chosen by the user. Users can also use their phone or web interface to answer the messages they receive. Google Voice transcribes voicemails immediately and sends user notifications through SMS and email messages.

What Google Voice Does Not Have

Google Voice is great for call forwarding but does not possess many standard features offered by other providers. Some features that are lacking are automated attendant and multiple-user extensions.

Related: Googl
e Voice Alternatives

What Users Say?

Satisfied customers of Google Voice services cite routing abilities, voicemail capabilities, screening capabilities, and SMS features as the main reasons for their satisfaction. Unhappy users of Google voice services complain about the difficulty of porting numbers from landlines and the lack of customer support.

Choosing Google Voice

Freelancers and small business owners who already have a registered Gmail account also have a Google voice account. The new user now only needs to log into the Gmail account and either choose a number provided by Google or port the number from their mobile phone.

5. eVoice

eVoice pairs integrated fax abilities with virtual phone number services. Users also benefit from an auto attendant, the ability to forward calls, the ability to block calls, and text capabilities. eVoice offers an affordable option to customers who prefer to send and receive important information by fax instead of email.


eVoice provides users with four service plans from which to choose. The cost of these plans is based on the number of minutes the user desires, the number of extensions used, and the number of phone numbers. The price of customer plans ranges from $12.99 to $79.99. The customer can add outbound fax capabilities for an added fee.


All service plans offered by eVoice include call forwarding, inbound fax, auto-attendant, and voicemail. Users can add outbound fax capabilities for less than two dollars per month. The platform also provides a mobile app that can be used to make outbound calls, receive inbound calls, check voicemails, create schedules for call forwarding, and alter call settings.

  • Auto Attendant – The auto-attendant features offered by eVoice greets callers and routes them to the appropriate extension. Users of the eVoice platform are provided with a number of greetings to choose from or upload a greeting of their own.
  • Call Management – The call management capabilities offered by eVoice allows users to block calls, forward calls, transfer calls, and screen incoming calls. Features that can be added for a fee are after-hours greetings, call queuing, international forwarding, call recording.
  • Call Routing and Extensions – eVoice provides users with three types of extensions to facilitate call routing. The standard extension offered by eVoice allows callers to connect directly to the person or department to whom the caller needs to speak. A directory is provided for the caller to find the appropriate person or department. Sub-attendants are provided to give callers additional menu options within a department. The third extension type is information only. These extensions provide the caller with company information without the need to interact with a live person.

eVoice Setup and Usage

The straightforward setup options and simple to use interface is one of the best things regarding eVoice. Customers only need to choose a local or toll-free number to begin the process. Next, a custom greeting for the auto-attendant can be created. The user is then ready to configure the settings they desire for call routing. The process is made even simpler by the easy to navigate menu eVoice possesses.

What eVoice Does Not Have

eVoice differs from other virtual phone number providers in that the company does not offer discounts for businesses with multiple users or customers willing to pay for annual subscriptions. The company also does not offer unlimited calling plans. This could be a problem for businesses that need to make a lot of calls.

What Users Say

eVoice users applaud the across the board standard features eVoice provides. The only exceptions are with extensions and minutes. Some eVoice customers have been vocal about their dissatisfaction with the company’s customer service efforts.

Choosing eVoice

Users in need of a virtual phone number provider that provides incoming fax capability may want to give eVoice a try. Customers can try out any of the plans the company offers for 30 days free of charge.

6. Phone.com

Phone.com takes the top honors for vanity phone number providers. The company also provides customers with an auto-attendant along with their choice of pay per minute or unlimited calling plans. Phone.com is perfect for users who want a customized number that will be easy for clients and customers to remember.


The pricing schedule for Phone.com is from $12.99 to $39.99 for users who opt for the companies pay as you go services. Customers who choose the company’s unlimited plan pay from $22.99 to $27.99 for each user extension.


Phones.com provides users of their voice phone number service with an automated attendant that is fully customizable. Customers are also provided with unlimited extensions, faxing and texting services, and voicemail to email capabilities.

Specific features offered by Phone.com are:

  • Automated Attendant – The auto-attendant feature provided by Phone.com comes with Interactive Voice Response capabilities that can be controlled with the push of a button. The auto-attendant can be programmed with custom messages, greetings that include both voice and music, and a directory that allows the caller to find the name of the person with whom they desire to talk.
  • Call Management – The call management tools for Phone.com include call forwarding, call transfer, and the ability of users to block calls. The company also provides users with the ability to screen each phone call for vital caller information when calls are received from customers and clients.
  • Call Routing and Extensions – Phone.com provides all users with unlimited extensions. These extensions come with call logs, the ability to route calls, a conference bridge, and individual boxes for voicemail.

Phone.com Setup And Usage

The platform for Phone.com is 100% self-service and is ready to use as soon as the signup process is completed. The functions of the platform only require a few clicks to activate and any added adapters or equipment can be purchased from Phones.com directly when the size and needs of the company begin to grow.

What Phone.com Does Not Have

Phone.com offers support services through phone, email, and live chat. However, this support is not necessary 24/7. Also, users must pay extra for CRM integration and call conferencing features. Other virtual phone number providers offer these additional services to users for no extra charge.

What Users Say

Phone.com customers commend the flexibility of the plans offered by the company. Customers also expressed appreciation for the low price of services offered by Phone.com. Some users have complained about the quality of customer support, extended waiting times, and longer than the extended wait to receive returned messages from the customer support team.

Choosing Phone.com

Virtual phone number users who need a service that is easy to use by customers should consider Phone.com. Potential customers can use the company’s services for 30 days at no risk to them.

7. Nextiva

Nextiva offers users of its virtual phone numbers unlimited domestic calling and multiple plans of service. Nextiva is a good selection for entrepreneurs working alone and owners of small companies who need a virtual phone number with a complete business phone system at a price they can afford.


The three price plans offered by Nextiva begin with their Office Pro plan that is available to users for as little as $19.95 a month. The Office Pro Plus solution by the company starts at $20.95 a month and the Office Enterprise plan offered by Nextiva can cost as little as $27.95 per month.


Nextiva offers a variety of services with its
three-tiered service plan. A few of the most popular features include:

  • Office Pro – The Office Pro plan offered by Nextiva provides customers with a local or toll-free business number, the ability to transfer voicemail to email, unlimited calling plans, fax capabilities, and music for callers to listen to while on hold. Small companies pay up to $34.95 per month but this price can be significantly lower for companies with lots of users. Companies with 100 or more users pay only $19.95.
  • Office Pro Plus – Office Pro Plus users benefit from a professionally recorded greeting, access to the Nextiva mobile app, and conference calling. The price for this service varies from $20.95 for smaller companies to the $37.95 paid by the largest companies using Nextiva Office Pro Plus services The Office Pro Plus plan is great for users who need the ability for conference calls and call management capabilities to go along with their virtual phone number.
  • Office Enterprise – Users of the Office Enterprise plan are provided with three professionally recorded greetings for callers. The cost of the plan ranges from $27.95 to $44.95 depending on the size of the company. The plan is a little higher than customers of other services would pay but added value results from the full business phone system and unlimited calling. Nextiva Office Enterprise users also enjoy CRM features. These features include advanced options for recording calls and journey mapping for customers.

Nextiva Setup and Usage

The set-up process for Nextiva is simple and straight forward. The interface is not difficult to use but can be a little confusing to some new users. The call forwarding issues are easy to manage but the process of customizing greetings and setting business hours is a little cumbersome.

What Nextiva Does Not Have

Nextiva possibly provides the best combination of pricing and features for virtual phone services. However, the pricing structure listed on their website can be confusing. Nextiva should rework their pricing page to provide more clarity to users.

What Users Say

Nextiva customers reported being satisfied with customer service offered by the company, the ease of use of Nextiva products, and the reliability of the services offered. However, other customers have complained about the awkwardness of the company’s website.

Choosing Nextiva

Business owners who want a complete business phone system paired with a virtual phone number should look to Nextiva as a solution. Potential customers can contact a sales agent via the company website to receive a free demo of the services offered by the company.

Why Choose A Virtual Phone Number

Business owners can display a more professional image to potential customers for a low cost by using a virtual phone number. Users can also provide themselves with the features users of more expensive business phone systems enjoy. The virtual phone number also allows business owners to keep their personal cell or landline number private while using the same device to manage their business.

Another advantage to virtual phone numbers is they are transferrable in the event the business changes location. The number can also remain with the business if the owner later decides to change services or phone devices.

Final Thoughts

Virtual phone numbers are an excellent way to keep your personal text and phone calls separate from your business texts and phone calls. The numbers come with features like auto-attendants, voicemail, and fax. These features are all valuable to the entrepreneur who must run a business without the employee support to maintain office responsibilities. A virtual phone number will also add a bit of credibility to small businesses.

The seven virtual phone number providers mentioned above are the cream of the crop in the industry. Business owners seeking a provider of virtual phone numbers that include a solid set of features would do well to choose any of these companies. However, Grasshopper is the company that stood out as the best of the best after careful examination of the seven companies.

Business owners wishing to sample the services offered by Grasshopper can sign up for a seven-day trial to determine if the service fits their needs.


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